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Is self-healing concrete technology the future of construction?

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are using microencapsulation tech to develop self-healing construction materials

Dr Livia Ribeiro De Souza using a Dolomite Microfluidics system to produce ‘self-healing’ building materials.
Supplied image
Dr Livia Ribeiro De Souza using a Dolomite Microfluidics system to produce ‘self-healing’ building materials.

Building cracks and deterioration are common points of concern for asset owners and managers alike, but a new technology may soon alleviate these industry issues.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge are using micro-encapsulation technologies developed by Dolomite Microfluidics to develop self-healing construction materials.

The university’s Department of Engineering’s Geotechnical and Environmental Research Group said last month that it is developing microcapsules containing ‘healing’ agents such as minerals, epoxy, or polyurethane which can be added to building materials to allow the self-repair of small cracks that develop over time.

Commenting on the technology, a postdoctoral researcher in the group, Dr Livia Ribeiro De Souza, explained: “Many composite building materials used in the construction industry, such as concrete, suffer fatigue over time, developing small cracks.

She continued: “We are hoping to overcome this problem by adding micro-capsules filled with ‘healing’ agents to the concrete before it is used. The idea is that as cracks begin to form, they rupture the microcapsules, releasing their payload and stabilising the material.

“This approach requires the formation and functionalisation of double emulsion microcapsules, which we have been producing with the help of microfluidics. We have been using a Dolomite Microfluidics system since 2014, and find that microfluidics offers much better control of particle size and composition than traditional emulsification polymerisation techniques, simplifying the investigation and optimisation of particle properties,” added De Souza.

The Dolomite system has enabled the researchers to create functionalised microcapsules that bind more strongly to the cement matrix, while also having thinner shell walls and higher core retention, thus improving their self-healing properties.

“It is good to be able to discuss any issues we are having with the experts at Dolomite Microfluidics, helping to accelerate our research and move us a step closer to real world applications,” the university’s De Souza concluded.

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Construction Week - Issue 764
May 31, 2020